Our Predictions In The Jewellery Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG): Get Your Sunglasses Out!
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2019 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why.
The panelists are:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Sean Li (SL), editorial director of Blackbird Watch Manual
Tim Mosso (TM), watch specialist and media director of pre-owned watch retailer Watchbox
Note: as jury members, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr and resident collector GaryG do not take part in these early predictions.
The GPHG foundation describes the Jewellery category for watches entered as “watches demonstrating exceptional mastery of the art of jewelry and gemsetting, also distinguished by the choice of stones.”
TM: This category is an unabashed celebration of gem worship. While some of the “Ladies’” and “Ladies’ Complication” nominees seem to lean too heavily on stones, “Jewellery” is a category that rewards hard rocks that rock hard.
IS: The Jewellery Category is a real crap shoot for me as it’s nearly impossible to appreciate the art and quality that goes into these pieces without both seeing them for yourself — two-dimensional photos never do them justice — and handling them for yourself. These jewelry watches are often extremely tactical and even animated, and the lack of personal contact makes all of our image-and-text-based judgments here a stab in thee dark. But here we go anyway; after the GPHG presentation it will be interesting to see how accurate we are.
And I’d like to highlight just how unimaginative and unflattering I find the majority of the photos of these magnificent pieces.
JM: Jewellery: the category that has always given me pause due to my lack of knowledge surrounding jewelry, precious, and semiprecious stones. But no longer! I finally feel able to comment on some more nuanced facets of each design, though given the sheer quality of the selections, it really will come down to a more subjective opinion on the best piece.
If anything, I most appreciate the variety that we see as three are very clearly watchcentric, one is a bit of an in-between, and two are clearly jewelry pieces that feature timekeeping. I look forward to seeing what others highlight about these pieces as I continue to discover a passion for gemstones and jewelry.
SL: This is one of the categories that is really difficult to evaluate without having the watches in hand as it relies on a very close examination that even high-resolution photos might not afford. On top of that, these are the kinds of watches that tend to be unique or extremely rare pieces and they’re seldom presented during SIHH or Baselworld, making it doubly challenging. During my time on the GPHG jury, I would rely on discussions with the relevant experts and the hands-on time during the jury meeting.
All this to say, my apologies in advance to the brands in question if I completely mess this one up.
Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani
SL: Once again we see Bulgari’s favored serpent motif, although we could be forgiven for being blinded by the more than 100 carats of stones, be they diamonds or sapphires, adorning the piece. To me, one of the more aesthetically pleasing and balanced jewelry watches presented at this year’s GPHG.
TM: Bulgari’s Serpenti is the segment veteran thanks to a heritage that dates to the 1940s. The Serpenti Misteriosi Romani stands among the best of this distinguished line. Between its deft use of volume, form and color, Bulgari is at worst the second seed for this category win.
More of a gauntlet than a watch, the “Romani” departs from wristwatch conventions with spectacular effect. The coil and flanking serpent feature pronounce sculptural qualities that add three-dimensional appeal, and the gems are employed to achieve additional definition around diamond-paved geometries and the serpent’s head.
Despite an outrageous 107+ total carat weight, the effect of the two-tone sapphire-diamond color scheme feels almost restrained; Bulgari could have turned this watch into a Mardi Gras float with excessive use of color. While owners of CHF 1,771,000 diamond-paved crystal manacles are certain to be the first casualties of the inevitable proletarian revolution, owners of this Bulgari can be assured of going out in style.
JM: Bulgari is no slouch when it comes to jewelry and stones, and the Serpenti line has always produced some magnificent creations. This year is no different, and I have to pick the Serpenti Misteriosi Romani as my winner due to its combination of geometric and natural shapes combined with incredible stone settings and a secret watch function that is a crowd favorite.
The 10.87-carat cushion-cut sapphire on the serpent’s head is stunning alone, but when combined with the art deco cuff design wrapped by a diamond serpent with matching scale pattern, it literally makes my jaw drop. The snake is pavé-set with round diamonds and uses pear-shaped blue sapphires for the eyes. But the snake isn’t the most impressive.
The cuff is entirely set using invisible settings (the most difficult setting technique) to hold hundreds of baguette-cut diamonds (and a few custom cuts to fill in the edges) and buff-top square and triangular blue sapphires. Buff-top stones are much less common in high-end jewelry due to the fact the top surface is softly rounded like a cabochon but fully faceted underneath, making them a bit less sparkly but allowing for a more consistent glow of color.
The combination is astounding, and the settings are tremendously impressive given the number of stones. Overall there are 674 stones between the cuff and serpent making this a truly impressive piece of jewelry that I think deserves the win in this category. Plus, it just looks so cool!
MG: I have always regarded this one as an iconic design, yet I never quite understood the need to place a large gemstone on the snake’s head. While it does make the watch more expensive, I feel that it takes away from the original design of being a (nearly) lifelike snake. And even more so with the cuff added.
IS: The Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani is an automatic favorite for me because one of my great pleasures at Baselworld each year is to handle the Bulgari Serpentis. The very first time I had the opportunity to handle one, I was blown away by the quality of the artistry, the sublime tactility, and the sensuous movements of the scales of the serpent. And you would be expecting the pinnacle of fine jewelry making when you will not be getting much change from two-million dollars! It’s my second-place pick here.
But come on, Bulgari, you make it hard: an entrancing 1.8 million Swiss franc objet d’art . . . and only one photo? It’s worth better than that.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/serpenti-misteriosi-romani.
Quick Facts Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani
Case: white gold set with one cushion-cut sapphire (10.83 ct), 674 sapphires (32.49 ct), baguette-cut and pavé diamonds (63.33 ct), pear-cut sapphire eyes (0.7 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: unique piece
Price: 1,771,000 Swiss francs
SL: Yet another dazzling piece coming from Chopard. Quite feminine, although slightly on the large side with a 41 mm diameter, it’s easy to see the intricacy of the gem setting, and the design calls for a variety of stone sizes as well. I quite like that it still maintains the silhouette of a watch while being a high jewelry piece.
TM: The Chopard Waterlily is grand, focused, and crafted with excruciating attention to detail.
It’s also monotone and iterative of Chopard’s own 2017 Jewellery class-winning Lotus Blanc Watch. That winner’s exquisite combination of dynamism (i.e., a mechanically articulated “blossoming” action) and imagination proved Chopard’s virtuosity in jewelry watches. While the floral theme runs constant between the two, there’s simply less inherent romance in the 2019 contender. It’s technically impressive, but perhaps “clinical” is the more apt term.
IS: I can’t even begin to appreciate the three-dimensional majesty of the Chopard Waterlily from the photos. I would have (at least) appreciated a side image and ideally a video. I have absolutely no doubt, because it’s Chopard and because it costs more than a million dollars, it is sensational. But I’m not getting just how sensational from the supplied images: 43 carats of diamonds speak for themselves, but this is a piece I need to see.
JM: Chopard is a leader in jewelry, and the Waterlily is a shining example of this. Using 43 carats of diamonds spanning cuts from hearts, half-moon, trapeze, baguette, round and trillion, the floral design is executed perfectly with extreme attention to maximizing “sparkle.”
The shape of the watch and bracelet make this a cross between pure jewelry and watchmaking; it would be a stunning piece to wear at a wedding or royal coronation. I will say that based on personal preferences, I like colors and I like contrast, so with only the hands in blued steel and the rest of the piece in white, it lacks the creative combinations that I think it would need to win this category.
MG: When it comes to the contenders in the jewelry category, I wonder if there is still a market for a watch like the Chopard Waterlily and the Van Cleef & Arpels Jardin du Glace? While beautifully made, their styles seem a bit old fashioned.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/waterlily.
Quick Facts Chopard Waterlily
Case: 41 x 19.6 x 12 mm, Fairmined white gold set with diamonds (43 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: unique piece
Price: 1,140,000 Swiss francs
Hermès Arceau H Déco
SL: A beautiful watch coming from Hermès’ jewelry ateliers, but perhaps a little too subtle in present company. I feel that the brand has done more impressive work in previous editions of the GPHG.
IS: I’m a big fan of Hermès, and I’ve considerable first-hand knowledge of the quality of the artists who do this work. So the Hermès Arceau H Déco is sure to be another strong contender. But symmetrical ordered patterns are just not my thing.
JM: As diamond-set watches go, the Hermès Arceau H Déco is probably my favorite piece of this category due to the subtle use of tiny diamonds in an intricate pattern that doesn’t overwhelm the watch. From a distance, this is a much more subtle use of precious stones. As much as I like it visually, and as clean as the design is, I feel this is a much “simpler” watch to create, as settings go, compared to most of the others. This is why I can’t bring myself to pick it to win even though I absolutely love the design and restraint.
TM: Hermès seems to have created the jewelry watch that I’d be most inclined to wear as well, Joshua, and that’s probably my cue to forecast a different winner. Jewelry watches are inherently outside of Tim Mosso’s personal wheelhouse, and so I need to act against my instincts and view the category from the perspective of a gem lover.
This Arceau H Déco is well-balanced, intricate, and handsome, but it isn’t a celebration of jewelry per se. That honor accrues to the no-hold-barred efforts from the likes of Bulgari, Chopard, Hublot, Van Cleef, and Jacob & Co. Only in the Jewellery category can a tastefully styled, beautifully balanced, sensibly sized, and mechanically powered contender find itself an also-ran.
Still, well done, Hermès; the fabrication of this gem-set/engraved/marquetry-composed dial is exquisite. Associating the spinning center dial with the automatic movement keeps watchmaking a focus of the design. The Arceau’s 34 mm case and series production speak to Hermès’ intent to make this a real-world watch; that’s in stark contrast to the “piece unique” and Caligula-chic competition in this category.
I can imagine a person wearing the Hermès without a care; I can’t imagine wearing most of the other watches here without a bodyguard.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/arceau-h-deco.
Quick Facts Hermès Arceau H Déco
Case: 34 x 9.45 mm, white gold set with 198 diamonds
Movement: automatic Caliber H1912, power reserve 50 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve indicator
Price: 58,000 Swiss francs
Hublot Big Bang One Click Rainbow
MG: In a modern sense I think Hublot did a great job with the Big Bang One Click Rainbow, although I actually prefer the chronograph version over this one.
IS: I’m not a fan of Hublot. I live less than 10 minutes from the factory in Nyon, and my life would have been so much easier if I’d become a Hublonista. But at the time my horological tastes were being formed I’d fallen under the spell of the independents, and Hublot (even before the arrival of previous CEO Jean-Claude Biver) was too commercial for me. After Biver even more so. And then it’s Big Bang, Big Bang, Big Bang. Always the same watch, different makeup and different story. And it works. But not for me.
But here it is again. I was fortunate to have handled and photographed the Hublot Big Bang One Click Rainbow at Baselworld earlier this year. And I loved it. It makes me smile and making me smile is an incredibly important attribute that I’m looking for in a watch. It’s an easy-wearing 39 mm and water resistant to 100 meters. For those with the money to buy one of these as a fun watch for the yacht or private beach and tropical soiree, it’s absolutely perfect. Perhaps I’ve had one piña colada too many, but I think that the rainbow-colored Bang One Click Rainbow will have a strong chance here.
SL: Surprisingly, this is the second smallest piece in this year’s pre-selection so it’s one the best suited for a feminine wrist. And as much as I appreciate that the stone selection and gem setting are difficult, I think the rainbow theme has been overdone the past couple of years.
TM: If Bulgari expressly avoids the Mardi Gras look with its chaste two-tone tandem, Hublot embraces Fat Tuesday debauchery. But unlike the fantastic plastic endemic to Bourbon Street, all of these rocks are real, and the result is overpowering. I like it; this is what the “Jewellery” prize is about, and Hublot’s effort spares neither expense nor one square millimeter of surface area.
Hublot’s claim to this category is weakened only in part because Rolex, of all brands, beat it to the punch with last year’s insane rainbow Daytona. This year’s jewelry category is stacked with brands like Bulgari that push further with gems while Jacob & Co., for example, deftly mixes gems with the magic of movements. The Hublot is fun, but the others are better.
JM: Finding stones of a very specific color is difficult, let alone finding them in the right size, cut, and quality to put into a piece of extremely high-end jewelry. I never realized before just how difficult it is to create smooth rainbow effects with gemstones, especially when working with five different types of stones and eight distinct shades. Most sapphires that are not white or blue tend to be treated, though there is still not a precise amount of control there. A more distinct rainbow without the crossfade is easier, but making stones appear to fade from one color to another is a long process of sourcing and inspecting thousands of stones.
That is why the Hublot Big Bang One Click Rainbow makes it into my top three; it has done a darn good job of creating smooth color change across most of the stones. There are some issues here, like blue to green and green to yellow, but the colors are well matched across the varieties and shades of stones. The settings are also impressive with the fully paved dial and invisible-set baguettes around the bezel. Even though this isn’t my style of watch or jewelry, it has to be said that Hublot and the stone setter (and sourcer) did a bang-up job creating this.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/big-bang-one-click-rainbow.
Quick Facts Hublot Big Bang One Click Rainbow
Case: 39 x 13.55 mm, red gold (King Gold) with 425 brilliant-cut gemstones and 48 baguette-cut gemstones (ruby, pink sapphire, amethyst, blue sapphire, blue topaz, tsavorite, yellow sapphire, and orange sapphire)
Movement: automatic Caliber HUB1710, power reserve 50 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Price: €81,000/78,000 Swiss francs
Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon
SL: The first word that comes to my mind is overkill. I know that the brand is as far removed from subtlety as you can possibly get, but still the sheer dimensions of it would make my own wrist look diminutive. It’s certainly a technical tour de force for the watchmakers and jewelers working together, and perhaps that how it should be evaluated.
TM: With three pre-selections, Jacob & Co. ties TAG Heuer for the most appearances on this year’s ballots. Among Jacob & Co.’s contenders, the Mystery Tourbillon can lay the strongest claim to a victory. If watchmaking chops are taken into consideration, then it becomes a favorite for this category. Between clever use of gems, prolific use of gems, and real horological value, Jacob the Jeweler deserves this win.
Mystery watches are the stop-motion animation of the watch hobby. Years pass, the genre appears to be dead, and then something – possibly by Tim Burton – arrives and breathes brief life into the category. Jacob’s Mystery Tourbillon employs the “mysteriously” driven hour and minute scrolls of the titular style, but the use of concentric gem scales within a three-dimensional diamond dome is beguiling and original.
The back-to-back tri-axial double tourbillon at the center of the dial is electrifying and arresting at the same time. Not only does it look like a rotating riot, but the unclear link between the machine and the orbiting gems serves to underscore the (occasional) magic of the mystery watch genre.
True, 50 mm timepieces 25 mm in height might be described as “clocks” in any other context. But “Jewelry” isn’t necessarily a “Ladies’” category, and Jacob only needs to find 18 suitably huge wrists for the expected production run. This is my favorite for the category title.
JM: Custom-cut stones take jewelry to an entirely new level when a creation uses them carefully. Making a jeweled watch with standard-cut stones is hard enough, but specifically requisitioning a whole assembly of custom-cut diamonds to create a specific effect is something not everyone can do.
Of course, for jeweler Jacob & Co. this is well within its wheelhouse. The Mystery Tourbillon displays an awesome assembly of invisible-set hexagonal baguette-cut diamonds mounted to indicator disks that display hours and minutes, pointing with blue sapphires and indicated with red rubies. The disks overlap like layers of an onion and circle around a central triple-axis tourbillon for a very impressive creation.
The case has very thin dimensions considering the amount of settings within it, helping to create the feeling that it is almost solid stones. The craftsmanship and function are top notch, and you just have to love such a cool mechanical movement in a jewelry piece. I honestly think this watch could win, and depending on jury sentiments it might, though for me it only takes the number-two spot as I reserve the top spot for another.
IS: I’m calling the Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon the winner of this category. Yet again, this piece has the significant boost of my having had the privilege of both handling a few gem-set Mystery Tourbillons and seeing them being assembled. And the pleasure of gazing at the twirling tourbillons and scintillating diamonds. And he we have two triple-axis tourbillons set within hundreds of diamonds punctuated by a few rubies and a couple of blue sapphires telling the time. This is the Jewellery “watch” category, and here’s a perfect blend of gem-setter and horological art. And you can easily tell the time at a glance. Indicating the time is an inherent characteristic of a watch.
MG: The absolute winner for me is the Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon. It features a very complex setting in which the “mystery” complication is so wonderfully integrated. The cherry on top is the multi-axis tourbillon bursting through the setting in the middle. Superbly done!
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/mystery-tourbillon.
Quick Facts Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon
Case: 50 x 22.25 mm, white gold set with baguette-cut and hexagonal-cut diamonds
Movement: manual winding Caliber JCAM32 with two triple-axis tourbillons linked by a differential (first axis 60 seconds, others two minutes), 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 60-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes (mysterious indication by sapphires)
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: 1,400,100 Swiss francs
Van Cleef & Arpels Jardin de Glace secret watch
SL: I feel this is an unusual piece coming from Van Cleef & Arpels; I had to look through their current collection of high jewelry watches for a comparison, and there really isn’t anything that approaches this piece. That’s not to say it’s not a beautiful piece in itself; perhaps it’s the turquoises that put me off. I’d really like to have it in hand to say for sure, but certainly a strong contender within this category.
JM: This is absolutely the most playful entry in this category, and it takes stones and their settings as gospel truth as it seeks to incorporate a wide variety of stones, cuts, and setting styles.
I’ll say right off the bat that this isn’t my style, but I can truly appreciate the collection of shapes that at first seem disconnected but when viewed as a whole create a starkly bold vision. It reminds me of a Maharajah’s jewels, but instead of rubies and emeralds it creates organized chaos with sapphires, diamonds, and – what do you know – turquoise! It seems that turquoise is often snubbed in high jewelry since it is opaque and, especially in modern times, might be easily mistaken for manmade materials. But with this combination it feels right, and the lighter sapphires and turquoise set off the bold dark blue sapphires, most notably the massive 10.3-carat oval sapphire directly above the secret watch cover. The execution is awesome, but I fear it is a bit too divisive to win the category, though I am sure some will absolutely love it!
TM: If the Chopard Waterlily suffers from one color too few, the Van Cleef & Arpels Jardin de Glace features one color too many. Fascinating form aside, the Bulgari’s just-right two-tone color scheme seems to slot between the over/under near misses by its rivals at Chopard and VC&A. In isolation, the Van Cleef would be an awe-inspiring investment of craft and carats. But in this company, it is under-gunned to compete with rivals that better mix color, sculptural form, and imaginative applications for gemstones.
IS: Wow. I should have put my sunnies on before looking at Van Cleef & Arpels Jardin de Glace secret watch: that’s a brightly colored chunk of eye candy! And the juxtaposition of straight-faced gems with rounded turquoise bauble cabochons give it a 1970s vibe for me. What we miss in the static image is that bracelet will flow through your fingers like silk. It’s a stunning piece.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/jardin-de-glace-secret-watch.
Quick Facts Van Cleef & Arpels Jardin de Glace secret watch
Case: 16.7 x 17.7 x 5.5 mm, white gold with oval-cut sapphire (10.3 ct), round-, marquise-, and pear-cut sapphires, round turquoise cabochons, and baguette-cut diamonds
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: unique piece
Price: 990,000 Swiss francs
Martin: Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon
Tim: Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon
Ian: Jacob & Co. Mystery Tourbillon
Sean: Chopard Waterlily
Joshua: Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Romani